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negative theology

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


P hilosophy of religion Also called apophatic theology, theism based on the method of the via negativa. It describes God by saying what he is not, rather than what he is, because as finite beings we can not recognize God's attributes in any real and full sense and because God is beyond what our language can positively describe. Negative theology claims that religious language is non-cognitive and equivocal. The ultimate thing is beyond all human concepts , and so what is affirmed of it must also be denied. Hence, all predicates – not only the negative ones such as evil and false, but also the positive ones such as good and true – should be subtracted from God. Such a negation of description does not lead to skepticism or unbelief, but leads instead to the truth that God is beyond all such words. It is only by removing from God all the imperfections of his creatures that his transcendence and otherness can be safeguarded. Negative theology enables us to maintain the radical distinction between God and his creatures. The Scriptures are full of paradoxical descriptions of God because they try to show something inexpressible that can not be stated positively. This type of theology is rooted in Platonic thought as developed in Neoplatonism. Clement of Alexandria is thought to be its founder, and its main proponents were the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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